by John Gallagher|Detroit Free Press
A sometimes controversial exploration of how to save Detroit culminated today with the release of the massive Detroit Future City plan that suggests future investment in population centers, such as the West McNichols hospital corridor and Midtown, and allowing other areas to be used for other purposes — some of them neighborhoods where Detroiters have lived for generations but that have slowly lost population and vigor over time.
Some of those areas might include Brightmoor, some blocks west of City Airport and parts of the lower east side. Among the most innovative ideas in the book-length plan from the Detroit Works process is that nearly one-third of Detroit’s 139-square-mile land area, the areas mostly vacant today, should be given over to new forms of “landscape” uses, including farms, forests and “blue infrastructure” such as new ponds, lakes, and swales to keep rainwater out of the city’s overburdened sewage system.
Nobody who still lives in these mostly depopulated districts would be forced to relocate from these districts. But new house-swap programs and other incentives might be offered to encourage them to move, and future resources for residential development would be directed elsewhere.
Detroit Future City also calls for limited resources to be allocated with a goal of creating denser concentrations of residential and commercial activity. The idea is that scarce resources can be allocated more efficiently in densely populated areas than spread thinly across the entire city.
This final report is an offshoot of the Detroit Works effort launched by Mayor Dave Bing in fall 2010. Bing promised then that his advisers would come up with a way to reshape Detroit’s neighborhoods in short order. But chaotic public meetings and opposition to a suggestion to relocate residents from distressed districts led to a rebooting of the effort several months later.
The Detroit Future City plan offers hundreds of ideas for urban reinvention. Here are some of the most innovative:
• Create linear “carbon forests” or banks of trees along highways and major boulevards to soak up air pollution.
• Create a “blue” landscape in abandoned parts of Detroit consisting of ponds, swales, and low-lying lakes to capture and retain rainwater so that it does not run off into the city’s overburdened sewage system.
• Create a voluntary “house swap” program to help residents move from the most depopulated areas into stronger neighborhoods.
• Create an industrial side lot program similar to residential side lot programs to let industry acquire nearby land for expansion.
• Create Industrial Business Improvement Districts similar to commercial BIDS in which industry would voluntarily pay a little more in taxes to pay for district improvements.
• Reduce the number of streetlights and upgrade all remaining lights to low-energy LEDs.
• In vacant areas, take some parts of the streetlight network off-grid and use solar power for generation.
• Prioritize renewal of the public lighting grid around high-density residential areas, employment centers and major event locations.
• Transfer ownership of streetlights to a new public lighting authority.
• Create curbside recycling.
• Relax business start-up regulations to stimulate entrepreneurship.
• Make it more expensive to hold vacant land and buildings. Target code enforcement on absentee property owners and landlords and create a vacant land registration fee.
• Revise zoning to allow for much broader use of landscape.
• Create new job opportunities through training residents to deconstruct vacant buildings.
• Expedite the permitting process for businesses in the main employment districts.
• Encourage industrial brokers to show Detroit properties.
• Promote development of a network of greenways for walking and bicycling.
• Create a transit phone app to facilitate trip planning in and around the city.
• Introduce car-sharing programs as part of transit options, along with small on-demand microbuses, etc.
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